If you’ve seen The Banshees of Inisherin movie, the knitwear was the star of the show (apart from Jenny the Donkey of course).
As an Irish knitter, I was especially interested in finding out how the sweaters were made. In fact, all the jumpers in the film were knit by just one woman: Delia Barry. I chatted with her about how she knit these gorgeous sweaters.
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Delia Barry: Knitter Extraordinaire!
Now in her 80s, Irishwoman Delia Barry has been knitting for over 75 years.
She only started knitting for films in later life though. Banshees of Inisherin is the latest in a string of movies & TV programmes she has knit for over the years. She was even actress Emily Watson’s knitting teacher on the set of BBC TV’s Little Women in 2017.
She was kept busy juggling media enquiries from near & far in the build up to the 2023 Oscars with finishing knitting for her next film project, which is top secret for now.
A true inspiration, Delia donates some of her earnings to her local charity Greystones Cancer Support in County Wicklow. As we’d say here in Ireland, she’s some woman for one woman! You can find out more about Delia on The Greystones Guide community website.
Win a Sweater Knit for you by Delia Barry
Would you like an aran sweater hand knit for you by Delia? Now is your chance. Just buy a raffle ticket in aid of her local charity Greystones Cancer Support – a very worthy cause.
The winner gets to choose 1 of 4 aran sweater knitting patterns which Delia will knit for you in the colour and size of your choice.
This charity raffle is open worldwide and entries close on Monday 24th April. Best of luck! 🍀
Knitting Sweaters for the Big Screen
While knitting for films sounds like the ultimate dream job, it’s not all glamour. Delia only had about a week to knit each jumper for The Banshees of Inisherin, including coming up with the patterns herself.
The film’s costume designer, Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, gave her old black and white photos of fishermen in sweaters from 1921 to work from – not exactly HD quality! In some cases she only had a partial image of a shoulder detail or chest to go on.
With her vast knitting experience, knitting plain sweaters is no problem for Delia once given size measurements. But the challenge with Banshees of Inisherin was the variety of sweater designs needed & only having a few 100 year old photos to work from.
Deadlines are always tight when knitting for film & TV due to fixed fitting dates with actors. Delia says it would be lovely to have a few weeks to knit something, but that’s just not how it works.
So she spent long days & nights knitting the Banshees of Inisherin sweaters so quickly. But she also felt a huge sense of achievement when the job was done.
Plus it was a big thrill finally seeing her knitting in the cinema. When she saw all her stitches in glorious high resolution on the big screen, she knew all her hard work getting the details just right had been worth it.
The Banshees of Inisherin Sweater Knitting Process
Delia had a strict schedule to meet her deadlines for the Banshees of Inisherin sweaters.
Her daily target was to knit at least 100g of DK yarn. Impressive stuff, especially when these are far from mindless knits in the round!
Delia knit all the jumpers flat (in pieces) on 2 straight needles (mostly size 4.5mm), and then stitched them together at the end.
Most of the sweaters have a drop shoulder construction, so there’s 4 rectangle shapes (excluding necklines) for the front, back and 2 sleeves.
Even after 75 years knitting, some design elements were new to her, like the statement collar on Colin Farrell’s red jumper that everyone now wants in their wardrobe.
She had to come up with these designs from scratch. Between the tight deadlines & the trial and error involved, much of the details of Delia’s designs are in her head or jotted down on scraps or paper.
So there are no plans to publish the Banshees of Inisherin Sweater Knitting patterns unfortunately.
But Delia was kind enough to share some details about the individual sweaters below if you would like to try knitting your own jumper in a similar style.
Colin Farrell’s Red Jumper
The standout piece from the film is the red sweater with the collar worn by Colin Farrell’s character Padraic.
Not surprisingly, Delia found it the hardest jumper to design. It took her a couple of days first to work out the right placement of the panels to fit the width of the jumper and get the design right.
She knit this distinctive crew neck sweater with Cushendale DK wool using 4.5mm needles.
The front is made up of 4 stockinette panels with moss stitch diamond and purl stitch criss cross line motifs, separated by narrower columns of moss stitch.
In all her years of knitting, Delia had never made a flat pointy collar like this. So figuring out how to knit it to lie flat with the right pointed shape was another challenge.
She knit the ribbed collar as one piece on 2 straight needles, starting from the top of the neck working down, increasing stitches on alternate rows near each edge to form the long points.
After getting it just right, Delia ended up having to knit the sweater a 2nd time, just because they needed it in a different shade of red. The first version knit in a brighter red did not work well with the light when shooting on the islands off the west coast of Ireland.
Delia’s not sure where the unused bright red sweater is now. She doesn’t get to keep any of her knitwear that’s used in films either, as it all becomes part of the film’s archive.
Brendan Gleeson’s Green Gansey
Brendan Gleeson’s character Colm wears a dark teal green fisherman gansey style jumper in the film.
The front of this round neck sweater features right cross rope cables at each side from the underarm to the shoulder.
Otherwise, this is a plainer design with a wide central panel in garter stitch surrounded by stocking stitch on both sides. However, while the stitches look simple, there’s more to the construction than meets the eye.
Did you know that if you knit stockinette beside garter stitch, that the stocking stitch parts end up a bit longer? Me neither!
Delia only discovered this while designing this sweater. She had already knit up to the armholes, only to find her central garter stitch panel was lying half an inch short.
Ever the perfectionist, she ripped back & came up with a workaround. The solution was to go up a needle size for the garter stitch part of each row. So, she knit the first stockinette bit with her usual 4.5mm needle, then switched to a 5mm needle for the central garter stitch panel, and finally knit the remaining stocking stitches back with the 4.5mm needle again.
Every. Single. Row. Can you imagine? Now that’s attention to detail.
Delia has plenty of patience because she was delighted when the actor asked her to knit 2 more of these jumpers for him.
Barry Keoghan’s Ribbed Jumper
Last but not least is the rustic ribbed sweater worn by Barry Keoghan who plays Dominic.
Delia Knit this with Studio Donegal wool. It’s a straightforward drop shoulder round neck sweater construction.
It’s knit in Fisherman’s rib stitch, where instead of standard purl 1, knit 1 ribbing, you alternate between purling a stitch and knitting into the stitch in the row below (after an initial set up row).
This makes a lovely thick squishy and stretchy fabric that is easy & meditative to knit once you get going. But you’re really knitting each row twice, so it takes longer to knit up and you use more yarn.
She knit the collar as a separate long rectangle piece of k1p1 rib in a lighter shade of wool and attached it to the inside of the neckline.
Banshees of Inisherin Sweater Yarns
Most of the sweaters in Banshees of Inisherin were knit with Cushendale DK yarn. This pure Irish wool comes from the Galway breed of sheep, from special flocks around Ireland, and is made at the Cushendale woollen mills in County Kilkenny.
Barry Keoghan’s character Dominic’s charcoal fisherman rib sweater was knit with Studio Donegal yarn instead, which is also 100% wool spun in County Donegal.
If you crave the full on authentic look from the film, note that these 100% pure Irish wools are quite rustic by nature. Delia & I both find them a bit scratchy to wear for our own knits.
That said, actor Brendan Gleeson loved his jumper from the film so much that he commissioned Delia to knit him 2 more with the same Cushendale DK yarn. How yarn feels to wear is such a personal thing.
Studio Donegal also do a similar style Soft Donegal 100% merino yarn which feels a fair bit softer than their original version.
But you could also knit similar style jumpers with your fave comfy heavy dk, worsted or aran yarn instead. Any yarn with good stitch definition should make a fab sweater, even if it doesn’t have quite the same island heritage look.
Many thanks to Delia for sharing how she knit the Banshees of Inisherin jumpers & what it’s like knitting for films & TV. It’s so inspiring to see how knitting can still take you on new adventures after 75 years.
Don’t forget: you can win your own aran sweater hand knit for you by Delia. Just buy a charity raffle ticket by 24th April.
26 thoughts on “How the Banshees of Inisherin Sweaters were Knit”
Would she knit one of all three jumpers for me in xxxl and Long please
That’s a lot of knitting Philly 🙂 it’s lovely you’re such a fan of her work
Would love one if those Colin Farrell collared style jumpers either plain knit or cable
I think that collar is proving so popular that similar styles might even be on the high street soon!
Knitting such sweaters is an art form. I’ve knit four or five in this rustic yarn on five needles and it’s an amazing relaxing and rewarding pleasure. There are lots of patterns available as each fishing village had and has its own distinct pattern. A wonderful tradition. Please try knitting your own. It’s a great hobby.
Thanks for sharing Marion. So glad you enjoyed knitting similar style sweaters so much. I’m sure they last a long time too so well worth the effort.
The little museum in Wick (east coast Scotland) has a beautiful collection of Scottish fisherman’s ganseys, actual jumpers loads of photos and you can check out lots of different stitch patterns.
Thanks for sharing Jane. I looked it up & there’s lovely close up pics & video of 1 of the Wick ganseys here. They all seem to be knit by Gordon Reid who has a whole site dedicated to gansey knitting at ganseys.com – impressive stuff!
Beautiful knitwear, absolutely stunning craftwork, my mam used to knit for all our family, my 3 girls only wore hand knitted cardis and jumpers right up until they left school, they are now in their 40’s. She knitted for all her great grandchildren(11). Previously knitted for a market stall/shop too. Miss her and her knitting. Well done Delia, May you continue your lovely work for many years, saw your interview and what a lovely, sweet person you are.
Ah it’s lovely how much you treasured your mam’s knits Mary
Do you know why she chose to knit them flat? I have seen old photos of fisherwomen knitting in the round with double-pointed needles. Was this her personal preference? (I hate seaming flat pieces, personally.)
Hi Alison, Delia has just always knit sweaters flat. That’s how most people knit in Ireland until the modern top downs sweaters became all the rage & it’s still common.
I’ve heard of original fisherman Ganseys were knit in the round on long DPNs too. I don’t know what technique would have been used 100 years ago in the west of Ireland though.
Also, there would be fewer rows to rip back and alter (she was designing as she went) on flat pieces, compared to knitting in the round where each round has many more stitches.
Excellent point there Jill!
Emma Watson, not Emily, was in Little Women.
Delia worked with Emily Watson on the BBC TV adaptation of Little Women, not the Greta Gerwig film that starred Emma Watson.
I really wanted The Banshees of Inisherin to win every Oscar. It was a brilliant film but brought the pleasure of learning about Delia Barry and her amazing skill and art. Thank you Delia for encouraging knitters and a new audience to knitting.
Well said Marion! Yes big disappointment here in Ireland that banshees missed out on all the Oscars, but at least Delia’s knitting has got the world’s attention 🙂
Thanks for helpful words and pictures about the wool creations and their creators.Searched Google images after Radio Scotland mentioned Banshees and pointed collars this morning.
Thanks Charles. It seems the Banshees sweaters have been mentioned all over the world by now 🙂
I’m curious if she was paid a lot or not very much to do this??
I’ve no idea Diane. But I hope the payment reflected the long hours & tight deadlines!
Good on ya, Delia Barry!! I’m a knitter and bowled over by the creativity and just plain work in these designs. Even apart from all the skill in the knitting and all the knowledge in the designing, that sort of deadline would freeze my needles!
You and me both Quinn! 🙂 I can just about manage to finish small knitted gifts in time, but I much prefer my knitting deadline free.
It’s so wonderful that a woman in my knitting group (west coast of US, Lake Forest Park, Washington) found your article about Delia’s heroic knitting 🧶 for the film Banshees. (Yes, I thought it should have won more Academy awards… and there should be a new award for heroic knitting.) Thank you!
Thanks Tyson. Yes I think designing & knitting a sweater in a week definitely takes the prize for “heroic knitting”! Hopefully your knitting group is a more leisurely pace 🙂